SUPREME COURT OF ILLINOIS
544 N.E.2d 942, 131 Ill. 2d 66, 136 Ill. Dec. 167 1989.IL.1448
No. 66993. -- Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Second District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Du Page County, the Hon. Robert A. Nolan, Judge, presiding. No. 67077. -- Appeal from the Appellate Court for the Second District; heard in that court on appeal from the Circuit Court of Kane County, the Hon. Joseph M. McCarthy, Judge, presiding.
JUSTICE STAMOS delivered the opinion of the court.
DECISION OF THE COURT DELIVERED BY THE HONORABLE JUDGE STAMOS
In each of these consolidated cases, the defendant shot and killed his wife and was convicted of murder. Defendants do not dispute that they committed the killings or that the killings were not legally justified. They contend that the evidence was sufficient to warrant giving the jury an instruction on the offense of voluntary manslaughter (Ill. Rev. Stat. 1983, ch. 38, par. 9-2). The issue common to both appeals is whether the provocation on the part of the victim was legally adequate to reduce the homicide from murder to voluntary manslaughter. In addition, in People v. Flores, No. 67077, defendant contends that testimony that defendant had threatened his wife was inadmissible hearsay and that the admission of this evidence constitutes reversible error.
In each case, the appellate court reversed the conviction and remanded the case for a new trial. (Chevalier, 167 Ill. App. 3d 790; Flores, 168 Ill. App. 3d 636.) We granted the petitions for leave to appeal filed by the State in both cases (107 Ill. 2d R. 315), and the actions were consolidated for purposes of review. We reverse the judgments of the appellate court and reinstate the convictions of murder.
The facts of each case are fully set forth in the appellate court opinions and need not be repeated here. Although the details differ, the circumstances surrounding the killings are similar. In each, defendant suspected his wife of marital infidelity. Just prior to the killing, the defendant and the victim had an argument, during which the victim admitted committing adultery and either disparaged the defendant's sexual abilities (People v. Chevalier) or flaunted the fact that she slept with her lover in the marital bed (People v. Flores). The victims were shot during these arguments. Defendant Chevalier concealed the shooting, eventually driving from Illinois to Michigan to deposit the body along a highway. Chevalier told a police officer that he took the body to Michigan because the grass along the roadway there is left uncut all summer.
During Flores' trial, an attorney whom the victim had consulted about a divorce testified for the State. The attorney, Eugene Griffin, testified that the victim told Griffin that defendant had threatened her. The trial court instructed the jury that this testimony was admissible only to show the declarant's state of mind and not the truth of the assertion. Four other witnesses, all relatives of the victim, also testified to threats made by the defendant.
In People v. Flores, the trial court refused to give defendant's tendered jury instruction on the offense of voluntary manslaughter. In People v. Chevalier, although the trial court instructed the jury on voluntary manslaughter, defendant contends that the instruction was erroneous; the appellate court agreed. We need not address the accuracy of the jury instruction, however, unless Chevalier was entitled to a voluntary manslaughter instruction. As Chevalier appears to concede, if the evidence did not support such an instruction, then an erroneous instruction on the offense could not have prejudiced defendant. Accordingly, we turn to a consideration of whether defendants were entitled to a voluntary manslaughter instruction. VOLUNTARY MANSLAUGHTER
At the time of the offenses, section 9 -- 2 of the Criminal Code of 1961 provided as follows:
"A person who kills an individual without lawful justification commits voluntary manslaughter if at the time of the killing he is acting under a sudden and intense passion resulting from serious provocation by:
(1) The individual killed
The principles governing voluntary manslaughter based on serious provocation are well established. "The only categories of serious provocation which have been recognized are: 'substantial physical injury or assault, mutual quarrel or combat, illegal arrest, and adultery with the offender's spouse; but not mere words or gestures or trespass to property.' (S.H.A., chap. 38, par. 9 -- 2, Committee Comments . . ..)" (People v. Crews (1967), 38 Ill. 2d 331, 335.) The rule that mere words are insufficient provocation ...